The U.S. military will open combat positions to women, with no exceptions, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Thursday in a decision that settles a decades-old debate surrounding the armed forces.
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The positions in all service branches will be open to women in 30 days, Mr. Carter said. His decision, described at a Pentagon news conference, follows a three-year review by all of the service branches to assess how women could be integrated into the military.
A 2013 Defense Department directive instructed all the military branches to open up all positions to qualified women. The Marine Corps requested exceptions in some areas, including infantry, but Mr. Carter said Thursday he declined to grant those.
"An important factor was to have access to every American who could add strength to the joint force," Mr. Carter said, adding that the decision was based on empirical analysis of studies conducted by the service branches over the past three years.
The Army, Navy and Air Force didn't request any exceptions.
The practical effect of the announcement is to open up the 10% of positions that still remain closed to women—nearly 220,000 jobs—in infantry, reconnaissance and special operations units.
As he announced his decision, Mr. Carter also said all military personnel must meet the standards for all jobs. He outlined seven principles to guide military assignments in the integrated service branches, including that equal opportunity won't mean "equal participation" and that the services recognize physical differences between women and men.
He said the Pentagon will pay careful attention to the integration process and that it won't come at the cost of "combat effectiveness."